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Ex-Pat Finds More Freedom in Lesotho & China

November 24, 2011

1.1226424840.lesotho-5.jpg(left, 3 old school buildings in Lesoto)

The hardest part is
the reverse culture shock. I saw the USA with a new pair of eyes. The
'land of the free, home of the brave' was fast-paced,  ghoulish, and
on edge.

by Chester Yang

The first time I left the USA was in 2005; I was young, dumb,
fresh out of university, and looking for adventure. I signed up for the U.S. Peace Corps and served as an environmental consultant in the rural Kingdom of Lesotho. Everybody gets something different out of their Peace Corps experience. Most PCVs saw it as something to garnish their resume or law school applications with. I saw it as an opportunity to do something interesting.

Like all countries, Lesotho had its problems. After enduring the first
and second phases of culture shock, I began to see things a bit
differently. For starters, The Kingdom of Lesotho was a FREE country.
By free, I mean similar to the lawlessness of the American wild west
one hundred years ago.

Highway bandits, wandering snake oil salesmen, long-forgotten and self sustaining tribes in the hinterlands...sure this country was mapped by satellite, but much of it remains unexplored on foot, especially up in the Drakensburg Mountains.

Land was free on permission of the chief, building codes are nonexistent, and there is a very relaxed and live-and-let-live attitude amongst the Basotho people. Because of my program conditions, I didn't bother with Lesotho taxes. Most Basotho didn't either. It's a libertarian's paradise! I
did my two years there and returned to the USA...New York City to be

The hardest part of the Peace Corps experience for most volunteers is
the reverse culture shock. I saw the USA with a new pair of eyes. The
'land of the free, home of the brave' was fast-paced,  ghoulish, and
on edge.  I never really paid much mind to the drug use, communists,
homosexuals, or low-brow culture before I left for Lesotho. After
seeing something completely different, I couldn't ignore it.

The NYPD's police presence was ominous. The IRS was never too far away. No matter how much money I made, I could never get 'ahead'. Finding a 'good girl' was a challenge; Most American girls have been shagged out  by the time they graduate high school and university. This wasn't the same country my grandparents came to from Europe so many years ago.

I used to mock the Basotho (during the second stage of culture shock)
for not wanting to assimilate into The Republic of South Africa. RSA
is the richest country in Africa; Lesotho is one of the poorest. It
could only help Lesotho, right? With hindsight, I was wrong.

What Lesotho had going for it, as backwards and bizarre as it was, is that
it was THEIR land, language, and culture. By mixing Basotho people
into multicultural RSA, The Basotho will blend and breed their unique
culture out of existence. Add in AIDS, violence, and brain drain...The
Basotho people would have gone the way of the San people or the dodo
bird...extinct forever. Lesotho is a nature preserve of Basotho people
and culture. If any Basotho are reading this, accept my apologies.

But what about white middle-class Americans like myself? Where do I
call home? New York was filled with foreigners; Somalians who didn't
speak English, Arabs from every middle eastern backwater, American
Negroes who beat the crap out of whites like me, and oy vey...lets not
forget The Jews. I'll leave it at that.

 Basotho have freedom (to the point of borderline danger) nut they have a land to call their own. I don't think my people can say the same.
Once I finished up some university work, I made a decision to leave
the USA once and for all. I needed a plan and a way to make income
abroad. I ended up finding a job with a friend's business in southwest
The People's Republic of China.


The PRC is's an inspiring and developing country full of
exotic spices, lots of work, a friendly populace, and pretty girls. I
made more friends in the first week in PRC than I did in the USA.

Contrary to popular belief, I was somehow FREER in PRC than the long as it doesn't involve politics. Politics aside, the
Chinese party hard, work hard, the students are diligent. They are
tough, traditional, and resourceful. PRC is like the USA was in its
glory days.

At the border from Hong Kong to Shenzhen I expected border
checkpoints to include crazy body scanners, police dogs, and communist
stormtroopers. I saw none of that; Instead it was half-sleeping, half
chain smoking cops zoned out in the corner playing on their mobile

I walked across the Communist China international border
without even an inspection. I'm not that kind of guy, but I could have
smuggled ANYTHING across that border if I wanted to. It was offsetting...theses are the evil communists, right?

In fact, the only time I encountered heavy resistance was on my return trip home to visit my mother a year later at the USA border. Three pat downs, a
dog, armed guards, and a metal detector later I could enter back into
the USAA+.  From what I gather, USA, Israel, and North Korea are some
of the only countries in the entire world where you'll find such 'security' entering or leaving the country. China isn't in that category at all.

I've been in the PRC for two years now and am planning to stay a
third. I have no plans to go back to the USA anytime soon. For what?
To be unemployed? To take the G train back through Brooklyn and get my
lip busted by a "youth" with an IQ of 70? To have the IRS up my ass? Or
perhaps to get harassed by the police for some alleged drug activity?
I want none of it.

The USA is a great country. It was even better in my grandmother's
generation when it resembled Lesotho a bit more...I think I would have
liked the raw edges better. However, the USA isn't for everybody. The
balance of power has shifted. Asia REALLY DID take your jobs. These
horrible 'third world' outposts really aren't so bad after all.

What do we have that we don't? BMWS? They got'em. Air conditioning? Check. Medicine? Check. Beer...check (and cheaper too!) pretty and wholesome girls? In spades. Good food? Hit and miss...but it sure is healthier than what we had in the USA. I am RIPPED now, while I the USA I was turning into a bagel (you are what you eat, right?)

There are 180+ countries in the world. Investigate, travel, and think
of a hustle that can get you paid. It's not that hard. Learning a new
language is part of the fun and makes you more marketable.

USA has its perks, and I look forward to visiting every year or so to see my
family. I love them. But actually LIVING in the USA, putting down
roots, doing the 9-5 thanks. In the USA, input > output.

In Lesotho, China, and a few other places I visited, output > input. Give
it a can always return to the USA if it doesn't work out for
you.  Once you get a taste of something different it is hard to return
to the USA. Sure, I'll always be a laowai (老外) here, but it has its
upside. After reading some articles and seeing more and more expats
here in China, and a few surrounding countries, it's comforting to
know that I am not alone

Scruples - the game of moral dillemas

Comments for "Ex-Pat Finds More Freedom in Lesotho & China "

Robert said (November 25, 2011):

Living in another culture in contact with the locals is an experience that will change one's perception of one's own culture. You can't make valid comparisons until you have something real to compare with.

I've lived in China for a few months in direct contact with the people through a son who speaks Mandarin fluently and has been there for eight years. Indoctrination made the youth go berserk under Mao, but today common sense and friendliness are prevalent. In an obscure corner I had a large group of exercising soldiers interrupt their routine to wave to me and my son.

The control officers at the Macau border, which closes at 11 p.m., actually reopened it to admit my son back to the mainland when we got into a passport mess. On that occasion my
son made a dash through the border 'no-man's-land', a perfectly innocent act that in the USA probably would have got him shot.

Suspecting that every seeming anomaly in one's environment might be the work of a terrorist (or, as was taught in China, a counterrevolutionary saboteur), an attitude

that campaigns like "If you see something, say something" inculcate, puts an unnatural strain on psychological balance that eventually will lead to collective insanity.

Henry Makow received his Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Toronto in 1982. He welcomes your comments at